A Taste for Tea

A stand filled with the most delicate finger sandwiches, fresh cream filled patisseries and the lightest of homemade scones takes centre stage. This is the quaint essential experience of afternoon tea at the Black Swan Tearoom & Patisserie.

The Black Swan Tea Room, Helmsley, North Yorkshire, has been buzzing since it opened nearly three years ago. During its short life, the tea room has been adopted into the prestigious Tea Guild, joining the likes of the Ritz and Tea at Liberty. It has also been awarded the highest accolade in the tea world – being named the UK Tea Council’s Top Tea Room – and has become known for it’s top quality teas from around the world.

Alison Souter, Tea Room Manager at the Black Swan, believes that the success of the tearoom goes much further than selecting some of the best teas – it’s in everything that they do.

She describes: “It’s a venue, an event and an occasion. I see the tearoom as a little stool with three legs: quality, service and food. Without any one of those it wouldn’t be as successful as it is.”

The Black Swan maintains a mix of quirkiness and an air of exclusivity which everyone can enjoy. “Every tea room has to have its own personality. I think ours is a bit rustic and quirky, which I think makes it that bit more accessible.”

“If you went to London you would go to the Ritz, and if you’re in Helmsley, you would come to the Black Swan.”

This simplicity and underlying quality that is reflected through out the tearoom, whether it be through the white Wedgewood tableware or the cosy cottage interior. It is the ultimate experience, which ought to be savoured.

Alison says: “I don’t want people to come here and feel rushed, as though they have to leave within half an hour of arriving.  It’s about enjoying the experience.”

This is one of the reasons, Alison argues, why afternoon tea has seen a strong resurgence during more difficult economic times.

“I don’t know whether it is something more recessionary… as people become more reflective they realise that they want to enjoy and savour things more . So something like an afternoon tea, which is presented so daintily, is perfect.”

“But all together, it’s a British tradition to go home at the end of the day and put the kettle on. It just seems to make all the stresses of the day go away.”

The Black Swan Tea Room will keep building on its success until it “becomes known for its quality and service” and so successful that it becomes “synonymous” with what they do: “If you went to London you would go to the Ritz, and if you’re in Helmsley, you would come to the Black Swan.”

Save Our Streets

The Save Our Streets Campaign initiated by English Heritage aims to return the nation’s streets to their former glory. It does this by protecting them from needless street furniture, which blights the sight of local landmarks and destroys the individual character of an area.

Clive Fletcher, Historic Areas Advisor for English Heritage, believes that the need to protect the nations streets has never been more timely.

“In recent years there has been a great deal of concern about the state of towns and cities – it really has been a wake up call to the British public and to those who preserve the nation’s heritage that we could lose it all.”

Launched over ten years ago, the scheme was initially a London based programme. It was intended to solve some of the aesthetic problems caused by the lack of consistency amongst the several Borough and Town Councils in the city.

Clive notes that: “The streets really were a disgrace, chaos was caused by the proliferation of road traffic signs which were blocking historic buildings and landmarks. There was also a mis-match patchwork of pavements and barriers designed to protect pedestrians which weren’t really required.”

“That’s where the Save Our Streets campaign, then the Streets For All Campaign, came in. It was entirely designed to stop this huge amount of clutter and re-invent London so that it could be appreciated fully.”

“It allows people who are concerned about their streets to start to make their own observations”

One of the biggest challenges English Heritage faced was getting people to see that some of the safety measures put in place to protect the pedestrian weren’t necessary and were simply adding clutter to the streets.

“Management of streets is one of those things which is done by engineers and there is a certain amount of risk aversion which results in intrusive safety measures coming in. Research underpinned our belief that assertions on things like barriers were of ten unnecessary – it’s all about constantly pushing to show the problems in the design process.”

As a result, the Department of Transport looked in a more enlightened way at combining traffic with pedestrians – forming the beginning of the current thinking and wisdom on the design of streets and traffic management.

Clive says, “They re-adjusted the priority of pedestrians to work with the traffic. Although it is not a new phenomenon, this goes against what has been happening in the UK for years, where places have been wholly pedestrianised whilst concentrating traffic in busy ring roads.”

“But, the idea with this approach, is to see urban whelm of traffic regulated the same as you would else where… The basis is that the existence of traffic should not spoil our enjoyment of towns.”

“I think many people have walked down a street thinking ‘that looks shabby’ and have no understanding why or what could be done about it.”

The success of this campaign saw it  re -launch four years ago as a nationwide project. This encouraged the public and communities to get involved by actively conducting street audits and lobbying their council on behalf of English Heritage.

These actions were encouraged by the Government, who wanted to tap into the general public’s enthusiasm for their area, something which Clive says proved to be immensely popular.

“It allows people who are concerned about their streets to start to make their own observations and it certainly gives legitimacy to the concerns they may have. It has definitely been a popular campaign in that respect.”

The regional basis has meant that English Heritage has been able to target specific areas, concentrating on certain local land marks and regional distinctions and allowing residents to drastically improve the surroundings in which they live.

“I think many people have walked down a street thinking ‘that looks shabby’ and have no understanding why or what could be done about it. So it is absolutely about trying to show the public what can be easily achieved with some imagination.”

But Clive says that the scheme doesn’t only improve the aesthetics of an area. It also act s as a ke y to improving communities and cultural values, especially insignificant historical sites.

“These buildings are a part of our life that we don’t have to make an effort to go and see, they are all around us”

“The setting is critical to how we appreciate buildings. If the settings are a wreck the contribution those buildings make to the public and society is greatly diminished. These buildings are a part of our life that we don’t have to make an effort to go and see. They are all around us, whether they are potentially significant or historically important.”

“If your enjoyment is spoilt by having signs outside or huge pedestrian barriers and all the rest of it that makes places look messy, then the cultural contribution that they make gets diminished because we appreciate them less.”

The Listed Building Act 1990, states that a special regard has to be given to preserving the setting of conservation areas and historic buildings. But Clive says this should not be a reason to settle for a lower quality and standards in our streets.

“The law says we must preserve and enhance, but it is limited by highway advances such as pavement and road allocation.”

“But it is possible to design beautiful streets – the continent has shown us this and they have even enhanced safety for the public. For us not to follow suit it is a massive loss as it impoverishes us all of experiencing something special… It is something which we all share ownership of and something we should strive to achieve.”

Modern & Relevant

For many, the first thing to come to mind when talking about Girl Guides is singing the traditional Ging Gang Goolie round the campfire or saluting the flagpole. But modern guiding is much more than this.

Founded in 1910 by Robert Baden-Powell, the Girl Guides Association aimed to provide girls with skills for life. But over its 100 year history, this has undergone a dramatic change, along with many of the other traditions.

Now broken into four separate groups, Rainbows, Brownies, Guides and the Senior Section, the popularity ofthe association has never been as strong.

The Girl Guides boasts over half a million members and a further 48,000 girls and young women on waiting lists to join their local pack. It is the largest voluntary organisation for young women and girls in the country.

Maureen Rigg, 64, first joined the association aged eight, when it was a very different experience. She went on to become a guide leader for the 1st Egglescliffe Guides and has recently retired after being involved with the organisation for just over 50 years.

Throughout her time within the movement, she has seen it change dramatically, and vividly describes how barn dances have been replaced by the Big Gig at Wembley Stadium, which features chart-toppers such as Pixie Lott.

“ I also learnt that girls could do lots of things which many people thought were more suitable for boys.”

Maureen still holds fond memories of her experiences as a Guide, especially the values and techniques it taught her, she says: “I learned things like how to polish leather shoes properly, how to iron our uniform and how sew on buttons… I also learned that girls could do lots of things which many people thought were more suitable for boys.”

But for her, the most memorable activities were outdoors such as camping and hiking, which have become synonymous with the Girl Guides. She says, “The ones I most remember were the ones outside – fire lighting and cooking on the fire, hiking on the North Yorkshire Moors, camping, singing round the campfire and parades for Remembrance Sunday. We were very proud to be chosen to line the High Street in Stockton when the Queen came to the town.”

Whilst she recognises that the Girl Guides Association has modernised to embrace the interests of today’s youth, Maureen believes that the ethos which encourages girls to celebrate diversity, abide to healthy lifestyles and take part in novel and interesting experiences remains the same. The difference nowadays is that they use a variety of new activities to achieve the same end.

Maureen says, “There’s a much wider choice of activities now so that far more girls can find things that interest them, though some of the most popular are still the ones I enjoyed like camping and fire lighting.”

“Being an all female movement means that girls have one place to go where they don’t feel pressured to compete with or attract boys.”

“When I started there was a very strong hierarchy, military in style. The leader was called Captain, the assistant Lieutenant.”

However, the activities aren’t the only thing to have changed. The way in which the girls are involved in the whole process has been reformed, helping to replace the once formal and military style with a more relaxed and friendly approach.

“When I started there was a very strong hierarchy, military in style. The leader was called Captain, the assistant Lieutenant and so on. There was a lot of marching and saluting with emphasis on doing it smartly. By the time I retired such things were done as part of the history of Guiding.”

Kate Sharp, 27, is part of the new generation of Guiding and has been an active member of the organisationfor nearly 20 years, after joining as a Brownie in 1991. Now a programme leader for Salem Guides in Cheltenham, she agrees that Guiding remains beneficial for young girls and says that it has offered her many opportunities and allowed her to make achievements that she is proud of.

“I achieved my Queen’s Guide Award, the highest award for 16-25 year olds to gain in Girlguiding UK, which was a rewarding challenge.”

“I worked in partnership with the Bristol CREATE Centre to create an eco-exhibition, challenged myself to improve my tatting (a retro lace-making hobby) with ladies in Leicestershire; attended an international camp as part of the craft team; and will visit the House of Lords for my award presentation…. There are so many varied opportunities available if you want them.”

“There was always the same promise to do our best, always a respect for others and a sense of duty to do things for others.”

But, for Kate her role is also about empowering young girls, an area that she believes makes Guiding and its values remain relevant in Britain.

“I love helping girls to become confident and independent, empowering them to face challenges, think creatively and help other people.”

“In an age of worry about overprotecting young people, allowing guides to cook their own breakfast on a fire they’ve made at camp is such a privilege. Guides are much better prepared for life after and outside school than those not involved in the movement because they’ve been allowed the space to develop organisational skills, and responsibility for themselves and for others.”

The recent Girl Guides Association Annual Review proves that the experiences on offer are exciting and a long way from those that Maureen took part in.

In 2009, 69,000 girls rode jet skis, surf boards and kayaks whilst 27,000 learnt to climb. Kate explains that: “It tries hard to be modern and relevant; there’s more emphasis on fun than duty, and the interest badges, programme and uniform are frequently modernised, in consultation with members.”

Maureen supports this new wave of empowerment which helps to give girls confidence, even if it means it’s a more difficult job for the leaders.

“There’s much more emphasis on the girls having a say in what they do and how they do it now, and that’s good… It’s very challenging for the Guider as they have to be aware of the wishes and needs of every girl much more than when I was first a Guider.”

But, during Maureen’s time as both a young Guide and a leader, some things never changed.

“There was always the same promise to do our best, always a respect for others and a sense of duty to do things for others.”

The Marvellous Morris

Morris Dancer in full molly. By David-F

One end of a sweaty handkerchief is pressed into the palm of our hands as we hastily take our place in line ready for the next dance. It’s apparent when we begin that morris dancing takes some practise and a certain level of co-ordination.

We struggle to get our legs and arms to move independently and in time to the music, something that seems to both frustrate and humour the professionals around us.

Friendly Phil the music man plays his jigs in the background, as the others move off into formation and say to us ‘don’t be afraid to make as much noise as you want.’

If shuffling our feet and gasping or breath is the type of noise they were looking for, it’s fair to say we’ve got it covered.

Morris Dancing has been around in the UK since the 15th century, but today it is viewed as a humble tradition performed in pub car parks and village fetes.

Barry Goodman, Chairman of the Morris Dancing Federation, explains that today’s morris is also very different version from the original.

“The Morris that we see today comprises interpretations of the old dances as collected in the early 1900s, new dances in the style of the collected dances, and completely new traditions invented and developed by individual teams.”

This new style is attracting a wide of range of people to a dance that was once thought to be dying out. Joy Knight, 34, one of the dancers we have joined in with at the Kesteven club, says that: “It is a fun and energetic hobby which is bit different from the usual.”

The fifteen strong female team at Kesteven, Lincolnshire are proof that “there are probably as many women dancing morris as men.”

There have also been attempts to encourage younger generations to get involved, such as the Spring Event, which has seen the tradition cross genres to create a blend incorporating street dancing and the Morris.

According to Barry, this has raised the profile of the dance, helping to recruit new members:“There are more [groups] chasing them from the wings, and the prospects for young teams starting up and continuing to dance the Morris are very encouraging.”

“There seems to be more acceptance of it as a dance form among young people recently than I can remember for many years.” All this leads Barry to believe that Morris dancing will have a strong future.

But, for us, the class has come to and end and it’s time we put down the sticks.

Twart – Twitter Art

Art impacts society in many different ways. But, does society impact art?
We tweeted up and coming artists and photographers and asked them: “how does your work reflect your culture and surroundings?”

If you’ve got an opinion on art and culture, leave a comment here or tweet Archive.

Ken Powers
My art is designed to draw your attention to and accentuate the beautiful and often overlooked mundane subjects that surround us.”

Alissa Fereday
@ AlissaFereday
“Mine is almost all a reflection of where my heart is at the moment and what growth I’m experiencing as a painting builds.”

Julia Forsyth
“I’ve been asking myself the same thing! I guess the reflection is more internal than external – tough question.”

Jamie Berry

“Art is a reflection of where and who I am today, wherever and whomever that happens to be.”

Dawn Giunta
I tend to find inspiration in the mundane. Something ordinary will just strike me in such a way & I have to share its beauty. ♥”

Damien Franco
I don’t think I could answer that in 140 characters!”